THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST - in two volumes - by Père M.-J. Lagrange, O.P. - Translated by members of the English Dominican Province.London Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., Publishers to the Holy See. - Nihil Obstat: Ernestus Messenger, PH.D., Censor deputatus, Imprimatur: Leonellus Can. Evans, Vic. Gen. - Westmonasterii, die 23a Martii 1938. - First published by Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd 1938. - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2007.



HOME | Contents | PART I | PART IIa: 114.Pharasaic traditions and the true service of God | 115.Jesus grants the prayer of a Gentile woman | 116.A deaf man healed from an impediment of speach | 117.The second multiplication of loaves | 118.Jesus refuses to give a sign from heaven | 119.Jesus teaches His disciples | 120.The blind man of Bethsaida | 121.Peter's confession and Christ's promise | 122.The first prediction of the Passion and Resurrection | 123.He who desires to be saved must follow Jesus | 124.The speedy coming of the kingdom of God | PART IIb.

Pharisaic traditions and the true service of God (114).

Mark vii.1-23; Matt. xv.1-20.
[St. Luke's plan had no need of these questions of rabbinical casuistry, of which no mention is made in his record of the inaugural discourse of Jesus.]

St. John has just told us that Jesus returned to Galilee.
In the gospels of Mark and Matthew we find Him there,
watched by Pharisees and Scribes who had come from Jerusalem.
The leaders in Israel,
seriously upset by the words of this man who assumed the title of Son of God
and thought Himself above the law of the Sabbath on that account,
have therefore once more delegated some of their adherents
to see if they can catch Him in the act of violating established custom.
There was no difficulty about that when they were dealing with the disciples of Jesus
who, though they were devoted to the Law,
were simple-minded men
and little versed in the minutiae of rabbinical casuistry.
Before long they were observed taking food with unwashed
or, as was said, common hands,
which was a serious offence.
In later times it was told of Rabbi Aqiba that he had risked death in prison,
where he had only enough water to quench his thirst,
rather than omit using it to pour over his hands before eating.
[Strack and Billerbeck, I, p. 702.]
This rinsing of the hands,
which had to be done twice in order that the second rinsing might remove all traces of the first
since the water would be contaminated,
was done by simply washing, the tips of the fingers.
But if a Jew had been to the market,
where he ran almost certain risk of defilement through contact with Gentiles,
this hand-washing had to be done more thoroughly, right up to the elbow,
with the aid of about a hundred gallons of spring or rain water -
an immense quantity for Palestine.
[In our commentary on St. Mark we have written of the washing, by sprinkling, of things bought in the market.
There is never any question of this, however, in Jewish writings, which seems to show that it was not a common custom.]

In this place St. Mark adds that the Jews carefully washed cups, pots, and brazen dishes.

What was the origin of such exaggerated scrupulosity about physical cleanliness which they thus accounted as legal purity?
It was certainly not found in the Law,
and although by clever manipulation almost anything could be squeezed out of the Scripture texts by the rabbis,
none of them claimed to be able to deduce this from the texts.
[Reference was made, however, to Leviticus xv.11.]
They had therefore to be content with the authority of the ancients;
in other cases this had been considered sufficient for the determination of right and wrong in religious matters, and for the Scribes the authority of the ancients was as sacred as the Law itself.
But there were no grounds for such an attitude.
As interpreters of the Law it was the business of the Scribes to interpret it and not to burden it with new observances which distorted the very spirit of the Law.
Through all these ceremonies of purification the Pharisees had given a dangerous significance to what was an admirable principle of the Law, namely that Israel must behave as a holy people.
That law of holiness bound Israel first of all to legal purity, particularly in the choice of food [Leviticus xi.44 ff.],
and it served as a very necessary barrier of division from the nations by which Israel was surrounded and whose worship was so impure.
But it was a wholly external measure, and ought not to have been allowed to swallow up everything else.
Thus the prophets had been sent, Amos at their head, to preach purity of heart, and charity especially, which was dearer to God than all observances.
But the Pharisees, instead of making that love of God, which was the first principle of the Law, the animating principle of the ancient regulations also, devoted all their attention to the work of cultivating among the people the sense of their superiority over the Gentiles.
That superiority was made to consist in taking care to avoid all contact with Gentiles as well as with everything that was not legally pure.

Jesus resolved to show up by a striking example this deviation from the true spirit of religion which is so characteristic of all Pharisaic tradition.
The Law commanded:

'Honour thy father and thy mother;
he that curseth his father and his mother let him be put to death.'

[Exodus xx.12; xxi.17.]

Although there were doubtless bad sons in Israel in spite of the commandment, yet they were certainly fewer there than elsewhere;
but it was in Israel alone that hardness of heart and ingratitude paraded under the mask of reverence for God.
The Law contained another precept that nothing once vowed to God might be devoted to any other use. [Leviticus xxvii.1-34.]
It was argued that a vow concerning some particular and concrete object ought to be considered of greater importance than an obligation that was more general in character, such as the command of the Law that parents are to be honoured.
It was observed that there was no commandment that parents should be provided with food, or that children should hand over to them this or that.
Therefore, when a son was asked for such a service by his parents, he would, in order to cut short their solicitations, consecrate to the Lord whatever it might be that they required.
The consecration was a fictitious one in so far as he did not deprive himself of the use of the object;
but at the same time it was irrevocable since it would have been considered sacrilege to give the object to anyone but God.

The discussions of the rabbis prove that this flagrant abuse of religion was practised.
Rabbi Eliezer (about AD. 90), who had a reputation for holding singular opinions, expressed the wish that at least some means might be found for annulling these wicked vows.
But it was thought that there was no way out of the difficulty,
because the Law was explicit about the validity of vows,
and the strictness of the Law was held to apply even to vows that were immoral in character.
Eventually, however, it was granted that a doctor of the Law could dispense from such a vow.
Even if the rabbis of Our Lord's day were not responsible for inventing and propagating this subterfuge for escaping from filial obligations (and He does not reproach them with it), at any rate, by declaring a vow valid even if it were contrary to religion and humanity, they prevented a bad son who had made such a vow from rendering assistance to his parents even though he afterwards repented of the vow.
This was tantamount to neglecting the commandments of God for the sake of traditions which owed their origin and continuance to men.

Having laid down these principles clearly, Jesus leaves the Pharisees to judge for themselves what was the worth of their scruples concerning legal purity before eating.
But He desired to point out the way for the solution of this problem to such of the crowd as were willing to listen to Him.
Under the form of an enigma He contrasts what goes into a man with what comes out of him.
From the circumstances which brought about this discussion we understand that what goes into a man is, food, a thing which has no moral quality in itself; what comes from him is his actions, good or bad.
The Law, it is true, contained a whole list of unclean foods,
and Jesus abstained from eating them.
What He therefore wishes His hearers to understand is this:
that food which is clean according to the Law -
and there is no question of any other kind -
could not stain the soul even if it were touched with unwashed hands.
He is not derogating from fidelity to the Law;
the rabbis knew that better than anyone.
But He denounces their traditions as a distortion of the Law,
though the rabbis claimed that these traditions were its safeguard, its protecting hedge,
and they were proud of them as a masterpiece of their assiduous study and clever subtlety.
Hence they were annoyed and pretended to be scandalized.
Even the Apostles were somewhat concerned about the matter.
To think of incurring reproof from such masters as the rabbis!
Certainly the disciples would never have tried to defend what they had done.

But to His followers Jesus says:
'Let them alone;
they are blind guides.
Now if a blind man leads a blind man,
both of them will fall into the ditch.'

A child with good sight can easily lead a blind man;
but if a pair of blind men left to themselves try to face the crowd with each other's assistance,
with what caution will they grope their way along!
The Scribes are blind men who think themselves in the light;
they advance to the precipice without any hesitation,
leading along with them the mass of the people who obey their authority.
Reassured by this, the disciples - or rather Peter in their name - begin to ask what the parable means as soon as they are alone with Jesus in the house, probably the one He used when staying at Capharnaum.
To their ears alone He explains His meaning with a force and a realism that is unusual with Him.
St. Mark has preserved the exact wording for us.
The heart - and the heart alone is of consequence here - cannot be denied by what a man eats.
In philosophical terminology this would have been expressed thus:
since man, considered as man, is reason and will, he cannot be defiled by material food because it can have no contact with the spiritual part of him.
And that is precisely what the word 'heart' means in Hebrew usage, the spiritual principle in man.
The functions of the material heart are not in question.

By the heart is here meant the faculty of loving God and keeping one's self pure in His sight.
Hence what enters into a man has nothing to do with the heart:
'it goeth into his belly and goeth out into the privy.'

Thus was solved a grave question of principle.
The Law of Moses had, it is true, consecrated certain customs that were traditional among the Israelites, and when God thus approved them they received the force of divine law.
But the prescriptions of the Law of Moses were not to be understood as denying the principles of common sense;
the distinction between clean and unclean foods was not in itself a question of conscience, but only because this distinction had been imposed by positive law.

Later on the Apostles came to understand the immense significance of this obvious fact,
and St. Mark goes on to say:
'This was a declaration that all foods were clean.'

Not that this declaration did away with the positive law on the subject;
it was meant simply to show that this law was a positive law or perhaps that it was a merely temporary enactment.
The main thing henceforth was that no one should misunderstand,
what it was that God chiefly asked of man.
It was not He who had prescribed those scrupulosities of outward cleanliness that were mistaken for purity of soul.
Purity of soul belongs to the heart;
similarly it is from the heart that proceed those evil thoughts which are the root of all the vices,
such as the sins which do in effect destroy bodily purity,
those which defy God like blasphemy,
and those which injure our neighbour like theft and murder.

Jesus grants the prayer of a Gentile woman (115).

Mark vii.24-30; Matthew xv.21-28.
[The story is omitted by Luke,
for some of his Gentile readers might have been offended,
wrongly supposing that the dogs were an allegory for them.
Matthew has developed Mark's rather abrupt style.]

South Lebanon, Northern Israel today. (Microsoft Incarta: MapPoint Image).
Δ...North | MapPoint | Legend | Scale: Latitude & Longitude divisions are printed at 30 minute intervals. Each 30 minute interval = approx.55km./35 miles travel.

Capharnaum seems to have been the place where Jesus stayed longest after His return from Jerusalem.
He now directs His steps towards the north-west where lies the district of Tyre, which He traverses northward as far as Sidon.
But He comes back at once to the lakeside and reaches the domain of Philip, visiting Bethsaida and Gassarea.
The evangelists do not enlighten us about the object of this visit to Sidon.
If Jesus had wanted to escape pursuit by the police of Herod Antipas,
He would have avoided going into that tetrarch's territory to begin with after His return from Jerusalem.
Nor does there seem any intention on His part to preach outside the borders of Israel,
for He does not address the Gentiles.
His purpose then was probably to avoid arousing Herod's uneasiness, by frequently moving from one place to another and keeping away from the neighbourhood of Tiberias where Herod usually lived.
People came to ask for miracles and gathered eagerly to hear Him as He went from place to place;
but in that way there was no permanent centre of excitement.
By taking His disciples far away from their usual occupations, far too, as much as was possible, from the annoying enquiries of the Pharisees, Jesus gained the advantage of having them more completely under His influence in order to bring them up after His own spirit.

In spite of His desire for solitude,
He was recognized as soon as He entered the district of Tyre.
A woman threw herself at His feet begging for her daughter to be delivered from possession by an unclean spirit.
The pagans believed as strongly as the Jews in these seizures of man by a being stronger than himself, and it was the pagans who were responsible for the word ' demon' by which they meant beings much lower than the gods but superior to men, malevolent beings who annoyed men in every way and led them on to evil actions.
This pagan woman Mark calls a Syrophenician, for the old Phenicia had become part of the Roman province of Syria.
Matthew calls her a Canaanite, the old Israelite name for the inhabitants of Palestine;
it is just as if we were to speak of the French as Gauls.

Her request is not granted,
for the time of the Gentiles has not yet come:
'Suffer first the children to be filled,
for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.'

In a place like this, so near to Israel, everyone would be aware of what the Jews claimed for themselves.
This woman would also know what miracles Jesus had worked on their behalf.
She had no difficulty, therefore, in understanding the meaning of His reply:
it was a refusal.
But would Jesus return to this district after He had completed His work among His own people?
Very aptly, without any sense of grievance but full of confidence, she returns parable for parable:
Is it not the truth that,
even before the children have finished eating,
the little dogs snatch up the bits which fall from the table?
It is faith that Jesus sees in this witty reply coming from the woman's anxious heart -
the faith that draws miracles from Him.
The miracle she desires is already performed.
He tells her, and she departs full of confidence.
She found her daughter freed.
We may ask,
if Jesus allows the Gentiles to snatch this crumb from Him,
what will it be when their time has come?

The healing of a deaf man with an impediment in his speech (116).

Mark vii.31-37; Matthew xv.29-31.
[The general purpose of this passage of Matthew is to serve as an introduction to the second multiplication of loaves.
Properly speaking, there is no parallel to Mark's narrative here in the other gospels.]

Continuing his way northward Jesus comes to Sidon, the very ancient capital of the Phoenician cities.
It was not so rich as Tyre had been in the days of its glory, but it continually regained its prosperity after decline.
Its situation in the midst of a ring of well-watered gardens was beyond compare.
If Jesus passed through the city,
He did not, however, make any stay.
Traversing the line of lofty hills to the south of the Lebanon mountain-range,
He turned south-east as if with the intention of reaching the lake of Galilee;
but avoiding Herod's territory and crossing the upper Jordan,
probably at the place known as the Bridge of Jacob's Daughters,
He arrived at the Decapolis.
Even assuming that He did not stay anywhere,
the journey must have taken several days:
they were precious days for the disciples.

It was somewhere within this extensive district of the Ten Cities
and not very far from the lake [Mark viii.10.]
that they brought to Jesus a deaf man with an impediment in his speech.
They begged Him to lay His hands on the man;
they therefore believed in the Master's power, but at the same time were under the impression that this rite of laying on hands had some special efficacy and that Jesus could not do without it.
Already once before Jesus had not thought fit to act in the manner suggested to Him [Mark v.23, 41.],
and, as before, when He raised the daughter ofJairus from the dead, so now He does not admit the crowd to see the miracle.

He takes the man by himself -
this does not exclude the disciples -
puts His fingers into the deaf ears,
and touches the man's mouth with spittle from His own mouth,
then with a sigh He raises His eyes to heaven,
saying : 'Ephphata,' which means, Be thou opened!

We might almost say that this miracle requires greater effort on His part.
Yet it was He who had healed the officer's son at a distance.
Why then did He now choose to adapt His actions to the character of the malady, to touch the ears and tongue, to use spittle, speech, and command?
Was it not He who had only just delivered a possessed child without even giving any order to the evil spirit?
Perhaps He wanted to show His disciples that His sacred humanity contained the remedy suited to all our ailments.
Whatever the method He employs, the miracle proceeds from His free will;
but, as was proved on the occasion of the healing of the woman with an issue of blood, there really existed in Him a power which co-operated with the action of God who is the primary cause of the miracle.

Jesus demanded silence concerning this miracle, but He did not obtain it.
More than ever was His fame spread abroad by the wondering and joyful crowds.

Mosaic floor - loaves and fishes. Tabgha, Sea of Galilee.The second multiplication of loaves (117).

Mark viii.1-10; Matt. xv.32-39.

By this time they had arrived near to the lake of Tiberias.
Jesus had gone up a hill and was sitting there.
People came and put their sick down before His feet.
When He healed them a new outburst of religious fervour arose,
for at sight of all these miracles a chorus of praise arose to the glory of the God of Israel.
[Matthew xv.31.
After the incident of the Canaanitic woman we do not expect to find numerous cures granted to pagans who thus give glory to the God of Israel, a strange God to the pagans.
Here, therefore, the speakers are Jews.
In Philip's dominions, especially north of the lake, the Jews were assuredly in the majority.]
Then there took place one of those incidents which people were beginning to be accustomed to look for from Jesus in His goodness.
The whole multitude had been with Him three days,
and other sick people were continually being brought;
with the cures the crowd grew in number.
Everything was forgotten at sight of this extraordinary spectacle.
They had nothing to eat.
Jesus, therefore, after having rewarded their faith by miracles, took compassion on them.
He would not let them go away fasting, for some of them had come from afar and might have fainted on their way home.
It was then the full heat of summer which is very oppressive in that low-lying basin surrounded by mountains.

On this occasion the Apostles had a little store of seven loaves -
hardly enough for their own needs -
and a few little fishes they had caught.
Jesus took the loaves and, giving thanks,
He broke them and had them distributed by the disciples.
He did likewise with the fishes.
Four thousand people were thus fed and seven baskets
filled with the fragments left over were taken away.
[The baskets used for carrying food were larger than those (called kufas) used in agriculture.]

He dismissed the crowd without any difficulty.
The place of the miracle was almost the same as that of the former multiplication of loaves,
and must have been near the shore,
for Jesus at once went on board a boat with His disciples.
He came then, says St. Mark, into the region of Dalmanutha.
St. Matthew says the region of Magedan.
[The two evangelists are in agreement on the point that the place where they landed was not precisely a town but a district belonging to a city.
Mark's name, Dalmanutha, seems to be more no than a repetition of εἰς τὰ μέρη in Syriac.
Matthew's Magedan, read by Eusebius as Μαγεδαν, is asserted by that writer to be in the neighbourhood of Gerasa.
The reading Magdala in Matthew seems to be a correction of Magedan in favour of some place that is known.]

Both names are unknown apart from this place,
but it seems likely that the region referred to must be on the western shore,
for there we are about to meet the Pharisees again.

Jesus refuses to give a sign from heaven (118).

Mark viii.11-13; Matt. xvi.1-4.
[We here follow Mark.
Matthew's text is composed of different incidents.
Cf. Luke xii.54-56 and Matthew xii.38-42, which we shall see later.
It is only natural that the Jews should often have demanded a sign.]

Hardly had Jesus and His disciples landed when they were approached by a number of Pharisees from the neighbouring city who were particularly unfriendly, for they came merely in order to dispute.
Doubtless because they were discontented at the turn the conversation took, they broke it off by asking Jesus for a sign from heaven.
It seemed a not unreasonable request in so far as the Messiah was expected to give proofs of His divine mission.
But had not Jesus continually given such signs by means of His miracles?
Although He had not put them forward as proofs -
as did the false Messiahs when they promised such marvels as the dividing of the waters of the Jordan,
if only the people would first follow them -
and although the cures He worked were signs of His goodness of heart as much as of His power, nevertheless that did not detract in any way from the divine value of these signs.
The Pharisees, however, want things to be done in the manner that seems good to them.
They would prefer some extraordinary phenomenon taking place in the sky.
This obstinate adherence to their own opinions draws a sigh from Jesus.
These men of His own time, His own brethren, this generation to which He Himself belongs since He is of the same race, seem determined not to yield until they have received the sign they require.
It will not be given them.
Jesus returns to the other side of the lake whither the Pharisees will not follow Him.

Jesus teaches His disciples (119).

Mark viii.14-21; Matt. xvi.5-12.

The departure had been sudden, and as the Pharisees had come to meet Jesus by the shore, the disciples had not thought of going into the city to buy bread.
As soon as they were out on the lake they remembered, but then it was too late.
They had only one loaf or small cake of bread which had been left in the boat, for they often snatched a light meal while in the boat, eating bread with fish or olives and quenching their thirst with water from the lake.

Jesus was still sad at heart.
On the side of the lake from which He had just departed the Pharisees had acquaintances among Herod's courtiers, frivolous individuals who perhaps had been responsible for that haughty demand for a sign asked by the Pharisees when they came to embarrass Jesus.
These courtiers had little regard for the things that concern the soul, but they were eager in search of novelties and pleased at the idea of witnessing some striking marvel.
The Master is concerned to put His disciples on their guard against the danger of such a mentality, which He likens to leaven.
Leaven causes the dough to rise by means of fermentation which, as people already knew, was merely a process of corruption.
In a similar way when evil thoughts are put into the heart they unfailingly corrupt its simplicity.
Herod's servants, like their master, thought only of worldly pleasure, and they sought to gain his favour just as he courted the favour of Tiberius.
The Pharisees, it is true, preached virtue, but they loaded themselves with observances that encumbered the free movement of the heart towards God, even when these observances were inspired by a zeal that was sincere.

Full of solicitude for His disciples
and wishing to arouse their attention by means of the enigmatic character of His words,
Jesus breaks the silence with a cry of:
'Take heed!
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees
and the leaven of Herod!'

But it is His thoughts alone that are concentrated on the things of the soul.
Intimate as the disciples are with Him, witnesses of His life and hearers of His word, they move as it were in a different atmosphere.
The same set of words have one meaning for Him and another for them.
They think of the bread that keeps them alive,
and it was doubtless only at this moment that they perceived their negligence in omitting to bring a supply.
Jesus usually relied on them to attend to the necessary provisions.
At once they begin to dispute among themselves, and we can well imagine that it is because they try to shift the responsibility for the oversight on to one another.
This causes Jesus to grieve,
How is it that they are so dull to perceive spiritual truths?
Have they also eyes that they may not see, ears that they may not hear, hearts that are hardened?
But they have seen, no detail has escaped them, and they have forgotten nothing.
For when Jesus asks them how many baskets full of fragments they took away at the first multiplication of loaves, they answer without hesitating:
And how many baskets on the second occasion?
If they have forgotten nothing, then why have they not understood?
Everything that He says and does has a moral significance, a religious meaning;
it is a call to raise up ourselves simply to God instead of allowing ourselves to be absorbed by earthly cares.
He by no means promises that He will renew the miraculous multiplication of bread on their behalf in order to make good their negligence.
But even if they think only of bread when He speaks to them of a leaven that is of a secret character, that bread should remind them of the great miracles which He has used in order to teach them such lofty truths.
They must equally understand in a spiritual sense what He has said about the leaven of which they have to beware.
Indeed they did consider the matter in this way, and they understood that their Master wished to warn them against the corruption of the spirit, as we learn from Matthew.
[It is Matthew alone who draws this conclusion (xvi.12),
which brings the episode to an end in the same way as it had begun.]

Henceforth they are more attentive to the wonders worked before their eyes,
and they learn how to interpret them as a sign to be believed in.

Certainly no one can say that St. Mark has tried to shield the Apostles from blame.
It has even been maintained that he deliberately shows up their shortcomings;
but that is going a little too far.
After all their attitude was quite natural;
and a few lines further on St. Mark comes to St. Peter's confession.
This one warning, however severe it may have been, has not completely changed their dispositions.
The disciples did not doubt their Master;
they had faith in Him and were faithful to Him.
But they allowed themselves to be taken up by their daily cares, not being as yet wholly absorbed by zeal for the kingdom of God.
Who would venture to blame them?
The slowness of their will is due to dullness of understanding.
Men of the people as they were,
living by the labour of their hands,
absorbed until now in daily solicitude concerning the necessities of life,
they did not find it easy to lay aside that solicitude.
Jesus took them as they were,
and gradually accustomed them to imitate Him in raising their minds to higher things.
On occasion He rebukes them in the manner and with the energy that we learn from the gospels.
He is severe with His friends, as He is severe in reprimanding His enemies.
It is no idyll;
it is rather a hard school of perfection.
But so much the more did they perceive in all this a love that was deep, exacting,
yet at the same time tender as a father's.

Northern part of the Sea of Galilee in summer. The exact location of Bethsaida is no longer known, but it must have been some near here.The blind man of Bethsaida (120).

Mark viii.22-26.

Thus they were back once more in the neighbourhood of Bethsaida,
where the two multiplications of bread had taken place.
We know that the evangelists have not told us all that occurred during the ministry of Jesus;
still the impression left by the narrative of Mark, which is the most detailed, is that the recent journey across the lake was all to no purpose.
There is no reason to take scandal from this;
on the contrary it gives us an occasion for recognizing what was one of the essential features of Our Lord's life, one of the laws ruling His Incarnation.
He had plainly shown Satan, at the time of the Temptation, that He was determined to adhere to the will of God without seeking any personal advantage by interfering with the laws of nature.
Later He gave commands to the powers of nature when circumstances seemed to require His intervention, but most often He allowed Himself to be guided by events, taking them as signs of His Father's will.
After having met with this bad reception on the western shore of the lake.
He returns to the eastern shore and resuming His journey northward He enters Bethsaida.
He was well known there,
and there were no Pharisees to come between Him and the multitude.

In the city He was asked to heal a blind man by His touch;
He agrees to do so,
but His manner of procedure is more mysterious than ordinarily on these occasions.
He had only recently refused in the presence of His disciples to give a heavenly sign;
perhaps it was His intention not to astonish them so soon after
by arousing popular enthusiasm in performing publicly a miracle
which could have been taken as a messianic sign. [Isaias, xxxv.5.]

He takes the blind man by the hand and leads him out of the town,
puts spittle upon his eyes,
lays His hands on him,
then asks him whether he sees,
as if He were doubtful about the efficacy of the treatment.
The man answers:
'I see men like trees walking.'
Jesus then lays His hands on the man's eyes
and he then begins to see everything clearly.
He is commanded to go back home without passing through the town.

Thus the miracle was concealed from public knowledge;
indeed it was almost hidden from the Apostles under the appearance of slow improvement and the natural action of saliva, which people considered as beneficial in cases of disease of the eyes, provided it was the spittle of a person who was fasting.
[Talmud of Jerusalem, Shabbath, XIV, 14d.]
The miracle was however undeniable, though there was no display about it;
and Mark certainly did not relate it merely in order to explain Peter's confession.
Being something done by Jesus, it must, like all else that He did, contain a lesson.

Increasing light is the natural symbol of the mind's advance towards truth.
If the blind man only recovered his sight by degrees,
was it to be wondered at that the Master's lessons penetrated the minds of His disciples only little by little?
The time would come when they would see plainly,
when moreover they would understand the wisdom of that slow preparation.
St. Mark, who draws more attention than the other evangelists to the Apostles' slowness of understanding,
intended to show by this miracle-parable how Christ's method of teaching was typified by the healing of blindness.
His method was harmonious, full of gentle condescension,
but at the same time it was effective in gaining its object.

Church of the Primacy of St Peter, Tabgha, Sea of Galilee.Peter's confession and Christ's promise (121).

Luke ix.18-21; Mark viii.27-30; Matt. xvi.13-20.

And now the time had come when Jesus, to fulfil His Father's purpose, had resolved to determine perfectly clearly the relations between Himself and His disciples.
They were His followers;
they were devoted to Him;
they loved Him;
they knew Him for a prophet powerful in word and deed,
the Son of Man and the Son of God,
and these things served to indicate that He was the Messiah,
though His manner of action did not seem to be in harmony with the role of Messiah.
When was He to enter on His real career, and what was that career to be?
What part would they play in it?
Jesus had refused to be hailed as Messiah by the multitude,
but perhaps He would agree to accept the title from them.
In a word, there is a strong temptation to think that, notwithstanding their very intimate and affectionate relations with Him, there was a doubt still weighing on their minds.
Jesus therefore is now about to urge them to speak openly to Him,
to reveal to Him their thoughts.
Once He has got them firmly to agree that He is the Messiah foretold by the Scriptures,
He will tell them what God expects of the Messiah,
what sort of death is decreed for Him,
what glory is reserved for Him.
He will tell them also what God also demands from those who resolve to follow the Messiah.
It is now that the true nature of Messianism appears;
it is nothing but the spirit of Christianity.
As Jesus has to die before entering into His glory,
He must now reveal the preparations He has made for the period following His death,
arrange the plan that His work is to follow,
and make known His purpose of founding a society with Peter at its head.
Not everything is disclosed - it never is on this earth -
but a wonderful prospect is revealed to our gaze:
the human race organized in a way to pursue an altogether new ideal.
Continuing northwards, they came to the neighbourhood of Csesarea Philippi which was on the extreme borders of the land of Israel, but in territory that was now pagan.
It lay near one of the sources of the Jordan consecrated to the god Pan by a temple in his honour;
hence the name Banias by which this lovely spot is still known.
The city bore the name Caesarea after the emperor, whose worship was soon to overshadow the worship of all other deities,
and it was called Caesarea of Philip because that tetrarch, half pagan himself, had built the place in honour of Caesar Augustus.
Here there was no sign of that bitter opposition of the Pharisees which had its centre at Jerusalem but pursued Jesus even into Galilee.
Here no crowds thronged the roads after Jesus.
The disciples, knowing that He did not preach the kingdom of God to pagans, wondered what was thei purpose of this journey into a district which, although! thickly populated, left them feeling more lonely than if they were in the desert.
In a lonely place [Luke ix.18.] on the road [Mark viii.27.], and therefore still a long way from the city, Jesus first prays, as though to recall His disciples to recollection and to emphasize the divine character of the step He was about to take, and then offers His friends the opportunity of unburdening their souls by confiding to Him all that is in their minds.
In order to help them He first asks what other people think of Him.
They reply that some take Him for John the Baptist, others for Elias, others still mention Jeremias or one of the old prophets.
Remarkable conjectures, these!
Thus the ministry of Jesus was marked by so many miracles that no one could take Him for a mere ordinary man.
With the death of John the Baptist had vanished the spirit of the ancient prophets, and it seemed too much to expect that such wretched days as the ones in which men now lived should produce a new prophet.
There was nothing left to hope for but the Messiah.
The more learned among the Jews knew that the Messiah was to be preceded by Elias whose office it would be to anoint Him.
That Jesus did not put Himself forward as the Messiah all seemed agreed;
but was it possible that He was Elias, the Messiah's precursor?
According to others the role of precursor was to be filled by Jeremias or some other of the ancient prophets, no one knew whom.
Others finally held that God's evident purpose in raising up John the Baptist could never be prevented by that prophet's obscure death;
John had come back to life, was at work again and would soon declare himself openly.

'But you,'
Jesus went on to say,
'whom do you say that I am?'
Peter answered:
'Thou art the Messiah.'
[Expressed by all three Synoptists in the same terms.]

He had asked them all their opinion, and Peter was answering for them all.
But Peter did not take the time to find out what each one thought for himself.
Whether it was that he already felt certain,
or whether he spoke from his eager and impulsive nature,
he asserted without hesitation what was dictated to him by his faith and his love.
What Peter believes with all his heart is that Jesus is the promised and awaited Messiah.

St. Mark's narrative stops there, as does that of St. Luke who here follows Mark according to custom.
But there is something unfinished about the incident so recorded.
How is it that, after Jesus has questioned His disciples about what they and other people think of Him,
He does not tell them in His turn who He really is?
It is evident that He did not question them in order to learn, but in order to teach.
A curt recommendation to say nothing about Him to anyone could just as well be taken for a denial as for an approval of what they say.
It may be that St. Mark stopped there because it was not St. Peter's habit to speak of the surpassing honour paid to him in the words with which Christ had congratulated him.
St. Matthew, however, preserves for us Peter's answer in a form such as is demanded by the occasion,
and it is an answer that is conformable with a more complete confession on the part of Peter.

He answered:
'Thou art the Christ,
the Son of the living God.'

Such an answer suits the circumstances.

Jesus had given an explanation of who He was after the first multiplication of bread.
He had not been willing to accept the title of King,
for a different title suited Him better,
that of Son of God come down from heaven.
Almost all were scandalized,
but Peter, in the name of the Twelve, had confessed that Jesus was the Holy One of God.
St. John alone has related these facts,
but they give a perfect explanation of Peter's second confession
which was fuller and more exact because he had been inwardly enlightened.
The three synoptic gospels had, however, already brought up the question concerning Christ's divinity, whether on account of the forced admissions of the demons [Matthew viii.29; Mark iii.11; v.7; Luke iv.41; viii.28.] or on occasion of the admiration shown by the people at sight of His great prodigies. [Matthew xiv.33.]
St. Peter takes up his stand on this important point more definitely than anyone had ever done,
for he does not merely say like those who saw the stilling of the tempest:
' Thou art indeed a son of God,'
but: 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.'
And thus he shows that he has really understood the words of Jesus:

'As My Father who liveth hath sent Me.'
[John vi.57, 58.]

When Jesus declared before His judges that He was the Son of God, the high priest rent his garments.
Had He not been really the Son of God, Jesus must Himself have shown a holy indignation at Peter's bold utterance.
At all events it was due to Him to make some answer.
We possess that answer,
and it still resounds in our ears,
day by day and age after age.
Why should we not declare that it is the fulfilment of prophecy and understand it in the light of prophecy?

Thus hailed as Son of God, Jesus in His turn names the father of the man to whom He speaks and immortalizes the name of Jona.
But it was not from his father nor from any relation of flesh and blood that Simon, son of Jona, had learnt the truth that he has just declared;
by his love for Jesus he has been admitted to intimacy with the heavenly Father, and it is He who has revealed the truth to Simon.
Jesus therefore, in the name of His Father, confirms what Simon has said of Him.
And now He is going to say what He thinks of His disciple.
Before the disciple chose Jesus as his Master he was called Simon.
Jesus had already made known [John i.42. See above, page 88.] His intention of calling him Cephas,
a name taken from the Aramaic word meaning a stone or rock.
We do not know whether the word was already in use as a proper name,
or whether Jesus created the name for His own purpose.

Dwelling upon the meaning of the word He declares:
'And I say to thee, that thou art Peter (Kepha ),
and upon this rock (kepha ) I will build My Church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.'

'Against it' -
that is to say against the Church -
a word we cannot utter now without at the same time clothing it with a grandeur that is immense;
but when it was first uttered by Christ
it did not convey any idea of the innumerable congregation
or gathering of those who were to follow Him.
Understood whether in a universal or more restricted sense,
the Church is a community of men which Christ compared to a building on a rock:
the rock was the man who had uttered the mystery of the divine sonship of Jesus.
Peter, then, was to be the foundation and the organ of divine truth.

Over against this building we are given a glimpse of another, a citadel defended by towers;
it is thus the symbol of a hostile power.
The gates of which Christ speaks are the gates of Hades, as the gospel calls them,
a name borrowed from paganism where it was used to denote the abode of the dead,
but used by the Jews to refer to a place of torment for the damned.
[Formerly we used to refer to Turkey as the Sublime Porte on account of a great gateway, in the form of a pylon, which formed the entrance to the Grand Vizier's office at Constantinople.]
It is therefore the kingdom of Satan that sets itself up against the earthly kingdom of Christ,
but it will never be able to triumph over it or shake the foundation on which Christ built it.

We are given to understand, then, that Peter was to be the spiritual head of the kingdom of Christ, its appointed teacher of truth.
By the use of a different symbol Jesus goes on to show the universal character of Peter's power.
He will give to him, as to the head of His earthly kingdom, the keys that every master of a house during his absence entrusts to his faithful major-domo;
and, since the earthly kingdom is founded merely as a preparation for the heavenly kingdom, whatever measures Peter takes on earth will be ratified in heaven.
If he binds on earth, the sentence holds good in heaven;
if he looses, pardon is granted in heaven.
Binding and loosing are, as it were, representative of the extreme limits which include all the administrative acts of him who has the keys of that kingdom which is begun on earth and brought to perfection in the presence of God.

Such are Christ's words to Simon Peter.
He does not say:
'I give thee this power, to thee and thy successors.'
Had He so spoken, He would have needed to explain who and what these successors were to be;
He wished to say nothing that would give an indication of the duration of the kingdom which He was founding.
Any historian who weighs the value of words will therefore beware of forcing their meaning, and he will raise no difficulty in admitting the contention of all sects of Protestantism that Christ's promise mentions none but Peter.
At the same time he will demand that Protestants first recognize that Jesus was really speaking to Peter, and not merely playing with words;
that He was not indulging in equivocation by summoning Peter and saying to him:
'It is rather striking that you are called Peter, for I shall build My Church upon a rock, and I am that rock.'
No; the Church is really built upon Peter in the sense that he is its head.
That is the way in which Peter understood it and the other Apostles too, since they respected his authority.

Peter went to Rome and suffered martyrdom there.
There his tomb was shown.
The Church did not die with him, however, and was it to have no other head?
Someone took Peter's place as shepherd of the Roman flock, and therefore inherited Peter's power over that flock.
But what of the Church as a whole, the Church which had such a vivid consciousness (so forcefully insisted on by St. Paul) of being a unity, of being the body of Christ?
Was it to have no foundation?
Christ had appointed Peter as the foundation, and although Peter was dead the building remained;
it had the same enemies, and it still stood firm thanks to the rock on which it was built.
Indeed it was Peter who remained all the time, though no longer Peter in person but his office, delegated to the one who had taken his place. Christ's promise could not fail;
the very fact that there have been successors of Peter indicates the object for which that promise was made.
It was guarded in its manner of expression, but its full meaning appeared when the realities of the situation in which the Church was placed forced the revelation of all the truth the promise contained.

So true is this that some critics - those of the most independent character - maintain that the Roman Church herself has added to the gospel these lines which have been responsible for her success down the ages.
But in answer to this we have only to point out the fact that the Roman Church has not been free from opposition in the exercise of her authority.
When Pope Victor imposed his will in the Quartodeciman dispute he was met with resistance from the Bishop of Ephesus.
But if this felicitous Petrine text was only of recent origin,
what would have been simpler than for the bishop to have pointed this out?
[Had the text been composed in the second century for the benefit of the Roman Church it would certainly have alluded explicitly to Peter's successors.
The truth is that it was the existence and history of the Church of Rome which revealed the profound sense of the words.
The authentic meaning of the text has been fully stated by the Vatican Council.]

Moreover there is not a passage in the whole of the four gospels which is more clearly Aramaic in terms, metaphors, and construction.
Some see in this proof of the contention that the Petrine text is to be attributed to the editorship of some Jewish Christian who desired to support Peter's claims among the Palestinian faithful.
But if these claims were in fact admitted, would it not be far simpler to say that they were admitted because they were based on an authentic declaration of Christ?
The nearer we approach to the source of these claims, the easier it is to explain the facts.
After the Resurrection Peter assumed the direction of all.
He was already shown in the gospel acting as the chief of the Apostles.
He could not have acted thus without the knowledge of Jesus;
and if Jesus Himself was the real head, it was for Him to give some explanation of what was meant by St. Peter's place and office.
This He did in terms that told the greatness of that place and office in the Church, in terms that laid down the conditions for the future - a future as yet hidden, nevertheless a future in which Christ's word was law.
And we see with ever-growing clarity how that word of His still rules, and with a power that is ever more effective.

The first prediction of the Passion and Resurrection (122).

Luke ix.22; Mark viii.31-33; Matt. xvi.21-23.

More than a year had passed - more than half the time allotted to His ministry -
before Jesus welcomed and confirmed His Apostles' faith in Him as the Messiah sent by God and as Son of God.
The Galilaeans would have acclaimed Him as Messiah if only He had put Himself at their head, but they had refused to believe in a spiritual Messiah.
The name of Messiah was likely to be misunderstood;
therefore Jesus commanded His friends to keep silent about it.
We see all the more reason for this when we call to mind that the Apostles were still in ignorance of the humiliations which were to precede their Master's glory.
From now on they believed firmly in the glory that was to be His,
and that made it all the more necessary to remove any illusions they might still retain concerning the Messiah and earthly triumph.
This Jesus proceeds to do immediately.
Before a year was out He was to meet His Passion;
in speaking of this He ran the risk of making them anticipate that source of scandal,
an inevitable source of scandal for them even after He had forewarned them.
They acknowledged that their Master was the Son of God;
but at the same time He was Son of Man, and as such was destined for suffering.
Would not Israel take up arms to rescue Him from that?
No; on the contrary He would be rejected by the elders of the nation and by the priests.
He was to be put to death.
In that case, what about the glory of the Messiah?
He would rise again on the third day.

Such a glorious outcome of his Master's sufferings seems insufficient to the heart of Peter,
who is aghast at hearing this clear and unmistakable assertion.
He is the more upset inasmuch as his own faith has been expressed with such great assurance.

He alone of the disciples -
and not without a touch of that presumption which was the defect of his resolute character -
takes it upon himself to cheer his Master,
even to rebuke Him:
'God forbid, Lord,
it shall not be so.'

[Matthew xvi.22.]

But a moment ago Peter was enlightened by the Father;
now he is no more than the mouthpiece of common human aspirations.
But on this, as on the former occasion, the reply of Jesus is quick to come, and it is as strong in reproach as the former reply had been warm in approbation:

'Go behind Me, Satan:
thou art a scandal unto Me.'

But in spite of that we cannot but congratulate Peter on being so much loved by Christ.

He who desires to be saved must follow Jesus (123).

Luke ix.23-26; Mark viii.34-38; Matt. xvi.24-27.

Of course Peter could not be for Jesus a cause of stumbling;
it was not in his power to turn Jesus from accepting the sorrowful Passion laid upon Him by His Father.
Rather was it Jesus who was to become the stumbling-block and the rock of offence for the two houses of Israel, as Isaias had said. [Isaias viii.14. See Le Scandale de Jésus, by Pere Allo, O.P.]
There were always some among the crowd who were won over by His words and His kindness;
but were they ready to follow Him under any conditions?
On this point every doubt was now to be removed, especially for those who were already His disciples.
Jesus utters those words which set in such strong contrast life here below and life in the next world, words which compel a man to make his choice, to renounce the world and life itself if necessary, even to renounce himself unless he wishes to be rejected by the Son of Man when He comes in His glory.
In two or three words He describes the ascent of the soul to the summit of perfection,
and that ascent begins from the resolution to be saved which each one must make.

In dealing with this subject a careful writer, striving to set out his ideas in a logical order depending on the end which was desired, would have inverted the order followed by Jesus in this discourse.
The desired end is that we may not be rejected by Him who is the arbiter of our salvation.
It is salvation alone that matters, and even the whole world , is of no account in comparison with the soul's salvation.
The soul must therefore be saved, even at the risk of life.
To accomplish that we have to follow Him who will decide the soul's destiny.
But the order of ideas is different in the words which come from the lips of Jesus.
Perhaps it would be better to say that His meaning grows out of the chain of His ideas.
It is of Himself He speaks, and of those men of good will who profess themselves ready to follow Him. It is necessary that they renounce all self-seeking and be resolved to bear their cross like men condemned to death.
A strange paradox, to ask men to save their souls by first sacrificing their lives in so real a manner as that!
To lose one's life means, as we still say, to give up the ghost or the soul;
but when a man offers up his life for Jesus and the gospel he saves his immortal soul.
So great is the worth of the soul that, if a man were to lose it, there would be nothing he could give in exchange in order to get it back.
No, not even the whole world, if he had it at his disposal, would be enough.
Then, tearing the veil from the future,
Jesus reveals Himself coming as the Son of Man with the holy angels in the glory of His Father.
When He so comes,
those who have been ashamed of Him and His words,
who have allowed themselves to be scandalized on account of His humiliations and failure.
He in His turn will deny.
[Mark and Luke express the matter thus:
Matthew in a more general fashion says that Jesus will render to everyone according to his works.]

Now they know what Jesus is and what they must be.
He is the Messiah;
He is even invested with that judicial power which ordinarily the Jews did not grant to the King who was to come, reserving it solely to God.
But He is a suffering Messiah,
and He must be followed along His path of sorrow.
What is the exact measure in which His followers will be obliged to exercise renunciation?
Jesus does not answer that question.
He only lays down the essential condition
which consists in the readiness to give up everything for His sake, even life itself,
and in the resolve really to follow Him without being ashamed of Him or of His teaching.

Thus the gospel of the kingdom of God becomes the gospel of what must be believed concerning Jesus and of what must be done in regard to Him by those who believe.
There is nothing new in this doctrine except Himself.
The Jews were already familiar with the distinction He draws between the present world and the world to come;
moreover the book of Wisdom had taught them what price, in the shape of suffering, would have to be paid by the despised righteous man in order that he might attain to life with God. [Wisdom ii.]
Jesus adds only one condition of salvation:
that we follow Him.
He retracts nothing of what He has said concerning the kingdom of God on earth;
nay, He has just been making provision for the continuance of that kingdom.
He adds that He is in close touch with it,
just as He is in close touch with the kingdom of heaven.
At this point it must have been recognized even by the multitude that the ultimate goal of His mission was eternal life.
The true purpose of the Messiah was to lead men to that life,
and those who did not follow Him would be shut out from eternal life.

He had already taught such a transcendent Messianism after the multiplication of the loaves and during the feast of Pentecost, as we learn from St. John.
There He had expressed it in even grander terms,
though here in the Synoptists we find something more.
In the fourth gospel Jesus had revealed Himself as the one who gives life and who will raise the dead.
Men had only to believe in Him in order to receive the life that He was to give and to be admitted as well to that life of glory which was to follow the resurrection of the dead.
But there nothing was said of the sorrowful Passion:
yet it had to be taken into account.
[Unless we are to say that it is referred to in the enigmatic expressions of John iii.14and vi.51 (52);
and even then the question remains whether John vi.51 belongs to the same period as the earlier part of the discourse in ch. vi.]

The law imposed upon the Master must in some way be applied to the disciples.
Here then Jesus appeals to their good will, their courage and their self-denial;
and so strong is that appeal,
so encouraging is His promise
that we shall be with Him
if we follow in His footsteps,
that untold numbers of human creatures have embraced that way of suffering.
It has even seemed sweet to those who have taken up the cross in imitation of their Saviour and have renounced the pleasures of the world, in full confidence that when He comes in His glory He will not deny them.

The speedy coming of the kingdom of God (124).

Luke ix.27; Mark ix.1 (viii.39); Matt. xvi.28.

This work of saving souls by leading them to follow Him was to be the normal consequence of His mission which He had begun by establishing the kingdom of God upon earth.
That is doubtless the reason why the Synoptists have placed here a notable saying of Jesus which St. Matthew has linked closely with what has just preceded.
The sombre prospect of the cross was of a nature to raise doubts about the speedy coming of that kingdom of which Jesus had so often spoken up to the present.
So He solemnly declares that it will not be long delayed;
even some of those who listen to Him now will witness it.
Thirty years were to pass before St. Paul [Romans x.18.] thought he could say that the word of God had resounded through the whole world, that is to say, as far as the extremities of the world subject to the empire of Rome.
Then the kingdom of God was in truth established, fortified with a divine energy, as St. Paul calls the gospel [Romans i.16.],
manifesting itself in word and work. [Romans i.4; xv.19; i Corinthians iv.20.]
The seed was evidently the seed of a great tree;
the future could be judged by the beginnings.

Jesus was therefore once more exercising His prophetical powers when He saw so near to Him that which He had founded,
what St. Mark calls 'the kingdom of God come in power,'
and what St. Matthew describes as 'the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.'
The two expressions are synonymous,
for according to St. Matthew the Son's kingdom upon earth is nothing but the territory over which He has made God to reign [Matthew xiii.24 ff.],
and where His power is continually exercised. [2 Matthew xxviii.20.]